Friday, June 29, 2012

This Isn't How You Do Mad Libs

When I was growing up, I loved Mad Libs.  I would constantly go through those books filling out all sorts of silly stories with my friends.  We could spend days giggling over what we'd come up with, and we eventually started to write our own Mad Libs to save some money instead of buying the books each time.

We had a blast with them, and I love that Mad Libs are still available today.  I have fun playing them with the wee ones.  Their job is to come up with the words - sometimes with me helping to explain what an adverb is - while I fill them out before we all read them together.

I've had to enact certain rules with the wee ones.  You can't do everything as a Star Wars character or reference.  You can't use the same word more than four times in a single Mad Libs.  You can't use the same word in different ways, e.g., swim, swimmer, swimmingly.  They just don't make for good stories.  Trust me on that one.

We've done them often enough that I should the wee ones knew exactly how they work.  I should have known better, given that my husband has already proven that he knows nothing about Mad Libs.

This came home from summer school this week.  I'm still giggling.

Mad Libs gone wrong

Nan's Grama
Nan has a happy person named Nan.  Nan and Grama like to go to Target with their doll filled with tan sacks of toys.  If they don't have their bats, they feel very sat.  Ohhhh, and she almost got it.  "Sad" is the only word that was the correct word choice from above that actually made sense in the story, yet she somehow chose to use a word that made no sense.  Silly girl!

Mad Libs gone wrong - using the letter B

Big Billy
Big Billy plays a ball in a ball club every day.  He wears his big bat and ball, and puts on his t-shirt. Then he eats a tub of buttered bread, and he's ready to play.  Big Billy is the best base-ball player on the team, because he is as big as a big tv, and he is also very fast.  Go, Billy, go!  No comments needed, right?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Harnessing Your Super Power

The closing speaker at Type A Conference this year is someone I've seen before.  One thing I've learned about conferences, however - reinforced this year when I miss the Facebook session - is that just because I've seen someone before doesn't mean I've heard that talk before or that they don't have a message I need reinforced.  Rene Syler is one of those.  I've seen her speak at Disney Social Media Moms last year (I wasn't there this year), and once again as she stepped off the stage, I regretted that I hadn't found the time to just go hang with her.  Yet.

I have also posted other Type A Conference recaps:
Keynote session with Chris Garrett
Don't Rank Me: Getting Past Scores and Numbers with Kelly Whalen and David Binkowski
Time Management with Amy Bair
Taking Over the World with Google+ with Lynette Young
Vlogging for Bloggers: From Keyboard to Camcorder with Christie Crowder
Blog Coding with Peter Pollock and Caitlin
Blog Design with Laurie Smithwick, Brittany VanderLinder, and Melissa Culbertson
Why We Still Blog with Cecily Kellogg, Katherine Stone, and Tanis Miller

Rene Syler: Harnessing Your Super Power

I'm here from @goodenufmother and @ReneSyler.  I actually do believe you can have it all, and that's sort of a controversial thing to say.  It's maybe not all at the same time, and maybe it doesn't come to you in the way that you think it's going to come to you.  It doesn't come to you in a Tiffany box tied with a bow delivered by the knight in shining armor  Sometimes it comes in a wrinkled up paper bag in the gutter, and you think this is it?  This is really it?

You have to own it.  Know it, and own it.  What my "it" is will not be the same as your it.  Don't say I want to be a power blogger or x.  You need to be honest with yourself before you can be honest with other people.  If you have a blog or a brand, do you know where it'sgoing to take you ? Is it going to take you out of the closet and into the shower or to the red carpet or to Wylie publishing?  If so, then map out how to get to that "it" for you.  I'm amazed by people who say, "this is where I want to be" and then don't have a plan.  Would you get into your car for a long road trip and not have a map or an idea of how you're going to get there?

Following how other people got there is another way to map out how you're going to get there, but it certainly isn't the only way.  And it's not how I got to my "it."  I feel inadequate standing on the stage here because you all are professionals.  When Kelby said paid versus earned media, I didn't know what it was. I'm still green in this.  I sort of fell into blogging, and I don't feel like I'm an expert in any way shape or form.

My "it" a few years ago is very different from what it is now.  I used to walk down the hallowed halls of CBS.  I remember when I walked down the hallway one day, and Dan Rather said, "Hi Rene."  Dan. Rather.  I felt like I had arrived.  Then one day, I was fired.  As quickly as I arrived, I was escorted out.  Journalism is a tough field.  What made it tougher was that I had told my boss that I was going to have a preventative mastectomy because I had a lot of issues in my family.  The greatest risk for breast cancer is having boobs.  I told my boss I was having surgery and I was fired.  I believe the timing was coincidental.  About to lose your breasts and losing your job sucks.

One of my last assignments was to interview the cast of Dream Girls.  In one of the last scenes, Jennifer Hudson is just saying, "You're going love me."  And I had tears streaming down my face.  I love that she was telling us that we were simply going to love her.  That was the prevailing thought I held onto as I was heading out the door.  I'm going to show them; you're going to be sorry.  This will be the worst thing that you ever did - to kick me out the door.

People would say, "This is the best thing that ever happened to you," but I felt like telling them to shut up befcause it certainly didn't feel like the best thing that ever happened to me.  When I got kicked off the island, as I call it, I had this book coming out called Good Enough Mother.  I started blogging so my agent and others wouldn't forget about me.  I'm almost 50, and people can so easily hire people who are 20 some years younger.

The first thing I did was to create a mission statement.  My mission statement is, "Good Enough Mother seeks to help mothers and others feel great about the job they are doing as parents through support and shared experience."  I want mothers to feel good about what they do.  When I started talking about my experiences, I found out that everyone had experiences like this.  The mission statement led to the book and ultimately to the brand.

One thing I also did early on was protect my intellectual property.  I didn't come up with the phrase "good enough mother" - but I own it.  My good enough mother is a little different in that it's ok as a woman to say that I can't do it all, and that doesn't make you a bad mom.  It really doesn't.  I then secured the domains.  Did everyone buy the .com and the .net for your domains?  Spend the extra $10 and cover yourself.  Then I bought every other domain that I thought might be of interest to me in the future:,, etc.

Does anyone else here trademark?  It's a long involved arduous process, but I do believe that it's important.  You are a brand, and this is your house.  If you let someone come in and squat in your house and in your living room, would you let them do that in your real house?  Don't let them do it online.  You can do the trademark process yourself, but it's hard.  An attorney is expensive, but it makes it a lot easier.  I've been through two trademark battles already, and it's like kissing your sister.  No one feels good about it.  I was there first and I'm using it, so they got shut down.

Tara emailed me the other day saying, "You're so organized!" and I was like are you kidding?  I'm so not organized, but I do run Good Enough Mother the way you would program a television network.  At the fall upfronts, they lay out all the tv shows.  At 8pm, they're going to air this show on Monday nights, etc. I lay out Good Enough Mother like that. I  use an Excel grid, and I have clear, defined segments on days they're going to run.  Is it rigid?  Maybe, but I do shift things when I need to, and it's my roadmap that I use to build on.  I have a stable of columnists now, and I'm shocked that they want to write for me, and I'm shocked that they do write for me!

I write controversial stories and cover controversial topics.  Don't shy away from controversy.  It drives traffic.  You want to engender a reacion in your readers with what you put out there.  Why do you think the nasty guy on Big Brother gets the ratings he does?  Give people a reason to give their opinions.  People want to talk about themselves, so give them a reason to do so.

Look at the color on my grid.  Across the top, you can see the date and the strand.  I do these things called "Life Lessons."  If you want to do this, email me.  I send you 10 questions and link back to you.  There's also some social media promotion on the grid and other stuff.

I use this system called Base Camp to keep everything in one place.  I use this system with my columnists.  We work in groups.  No one work together in an office, but we use this camp as a virtual office.  The reason I went to this is that I was losing emails.  Email is sometimes hard to find things.  I felt like, if I could create a virtual office, I wouldn't lose things.  You can load all sorts of files in there.

Shed it!  Everyone in here has a good idea of the things they're good at and the things that they're not so good at.  Work on the things you're good at, and figure out the things that you're bad at.  What am I bad at?  The list is so long.  I'm terrible at procrastination.  I think it comes from being a trained journalist where I work best on a deadline.  If I continue on that path, my heart will explode. That's where my organization chart comes in.  I have to ask for help sometimes.  I know that this is one of my big big challenges, so I try or do better with that.

This.  Do not do it ever.  We have a tendency to look at other people and judge them.  We look at where they are and think, "but they're doing it so easy, they have it so good, they have people helping them."  Don't compare yourself to someone else.  You'll always be unhappy comparing yourself to someone else.  Comparison is the thief of joy.

If you hear nothing else, please listen to me now and tweet this.  There is no room in your life for people who make you feel bad.  Period.  Yes.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again.  You need to surround yourself with people who will stoke your fire not soak your fire.  We have so many relationship that are convoluted. Maybe people are stabbing you in the back or something else. Why are they in your life?  Why do you let them do this?

We're in NASCAR country, people.  Think of it like stock car racing!  These people create drag.  They will stop you, slow you down, and you will not get ot the finish line when you want to.  Do not let people who create drag in your life. Sometimes it's hard to cut off those relationships, but sometimes an end is a cleverly disguised beginning, and you don't know how high you can fly until you're untethered.  And that happened to me.

All of a sudden people wanted me.  I'm going to all these places speaking and doing all this writing for these other organizations, and it all of a sudden happened in the last eight months.  I was afraid to let that relationship go.  When I did, it was amazing.

You and I are more than friends.  We're like a small gang. You need this.  Whether it's your family or your husband or your bestie, you need people who are helping you move the ball down the field.   It's all hands on deck.  If not, they need to get out.

This is a difficult task to truly assess yourself.  One way is really concrete, and the other is not.  You need to assess what you're doing.  You need to use your metrics, and everyone in here uses analytics, right?  It's the same thing as counting calories with your website. You need to know your metrics. I use Google analytics. I also keep concrete data on what I was doing a year ago, what are the brands I was working with.  What was my Facebook page like, what was my Klout score?  I'm not obsessed with them, but I need to know.

The assessment of your life is more squishy.  It's an abstract measurement.  Right now, I'm a little off kilter.  My kids eat Skittles and Sprite for breakfast - just kidding.  I feel, though, that I'm working so hard right now, and I've got to take my foot off the gas a little bit.  I'm running this crazy race, and I've got to take a step back a bit.  My husband is an amazing support, and he's wonderful.  We've been married 18 years.  I swear it feels like 18 minutes.  Under water.  This is why I come here to places like this - to get away!  There really is no greater, more ardent supporter of me than my husband.

We're like the Cosby family.  We have the dog, the kid texting, and so forth.  I have two great kids who are 15 and 14, Casey and Cole.  They keep me grounded and that's what I'm talking about.  Whatever you're doing?  This (family) is what matters.  I know we want to make money, but this at the end of the day is what's important.  You need to have your priorities straight.

Drink champagne, and dance on the table.  You need to have your priorities straight.  I don't think we take enough time to take a deep breath.  I don't think we take enough time to stop and smell the roses, as cliche as that sounds.  I don't think we take the time to do that.  How many of you saw that the biggest risk factor for stroke was a lack of sleep in the study recently?  How many did that scare?  How many here get more than four hours a sleep a night? (Few) You've got to be good to yourself, too.

Look at this slide.  How many of us have been like this little guy saying, "Oh, I just can't do it."  You need to know why you write, why it's important.  You need to know what Sara was talking about. She came home and the words were bursting out of her fingertips, but how do you get that?  I feel like I'm saving the world and mothers one mother at a time.  I'm teaching everyone that it's ok to not be perfect, that's what I believe.  I also truly believe that I will not fail.  Unless I quit.  I will not fail.

I started Good Enough Mother in 2005, and it's 2012.  Do the math.  I'm not the guy on the bottom giving up, because I know I'm close.  And even though I may not be close, I'm going to keep going.  I have a passion for it, and I feel like I'm doing good. When I hear from people saying that I made them feel that it's ok to send a bag lunch to school that didn't have a sandwich in it, it reminds me that it's so important to know that the only way you will fail is if you give up.  Find out what it is that you need to keep going, and then latch on to it. Is it your friends and your family?  Is it getting centered again to find out why we got into this?  I go to bed every night, and I worry about the same things you do.  I know I can't give up now, though, because I'm too close.

This is the part where I would cry.  More than anything, I want people to say when they look at me that she was a fighter.  She didn't give up.  She had some really crappy stuff happen, and she didn't give up.  She fought, and she reinvented.  The stuff that didn't work, she went back and reassessed, and then she was a success.  People will say that she was an overnight success, and I will throttle them.  There is nothing I did over the last 7 years that was easy.  I didn't do it with an agent or a handler; I did it on my own without a cadre of help.  Thank you for believing in the mission.

If you feel like you're in a place where you can't do it anymore, what are you going to do? You're going to give them hell.  Then you're going to get up another day and fight.  I always felt like someone was going to ride in and pull me out of that crap someday, and it was always going to be good.  And you know?  Someone did.  Do you know what was?  It was me.  I rode in and pulled myself out of the crap.


You mentioned a part time assistant.  I can't figure out what kind of a job I can give someone to help.  I can't have someone tweet for me or blog for me.  There are only so many hours in a day.  What do you find an assistant can help you with?Rene:  I do a lot of public speaking, so she handles some of that.  I have the Base Camp system, and we have five interns this summer, so she rides herd on them.  She helps upload content from the guest contributors.  I do some external writing, so she helps with that and with my schedule.  She does a lot.

Audience member:  Anyone can clean your house.  You can use that time to work on your business.

I'm from a PR/media relations background, and I have a blog.  Have you gotten the doggy face when you tell people you're a blogger?  I left PR 7 years ago to be a full time mom, and now I'm trying to inch my way back and I didn't work with bloggers then.  What are the changes you're seeing from the PR side?Rene:  First of all, the lady in the back - how do you handle when you tell people you're a blogger?  I don't care.  It doesn't matter.  We as women have to put the focus where it needs to be, on us and our families.  We've got to stop focusing on external stuff and focus more on internal stuff.  People ask what am I doing now, and I want to say go to Google, and type in "Rene Syler."  When old media colleagues say that I had to get your phone number from your old hairstylist, I don't get it.  Google.  It's right here.

When I started blogging, I did it to get my name out there. Now I'm building a GEMpire.  I'm building a brand and adding value to a brand and building something that I'm going to give to someone someday when they hand me a little slip of paper with a lot of zeroes.  The big media are a little reluctant because there's no control.  Now everyone with a smart phone is a media producer/consumer.  Everyone is a purveyor of news and information, and that makes people in forner offices nervous.

What's next for you?Rene:  I am planning to have a cocktail after this.  That's as far as I have plans.  So whenever people ask what's your plan or goal, I say: Outside of building Good Enough Mother, I don't know.  I didn't have a plan with this.  I had no idea that at almost 50 I was going to be working harder than I ever have with building this brand.  When people tell me they want to be a journalist, I'm like really?  There's so much else out there.  I don't know that people know what it is now compared to what it was years ago.

I had a friend say to me because Rikki Lake has a new show and Katie Couric has a new show, why don't you try to get back onto tv?  I have spent the last seven years working hard pushing Good Enough Mother.  I'm not in a point where I can give that up and go work for another news show.  It's not that it isn't a great and noble thing to do; I just don't want to do it.  You may not always know what you want to do, but you know what you don't want to do.  

I will say that what's really exciting to me is video online.  This YouTube partnership is really exciting to me.  A screen can be something you hold in your hand now, and that's what is really exciting to me.

I love the fact that you share that when you're thinking about content, do something debatable or controversial.  I'm a contributing writer on 100 Days of Real Food, and we're telling people what's in their fast food and food in general.  We get a lot of haters.  What's your way of dealing with the haters so you can keep having that impact?
Rene;  Do you care about what you're doing and believe in it ? Yes?  Then I don't care.  Not everyone is going to like me.  There are 24 hours in a day, and I'd rather spend it with the people who do care about me than the people who don't. When I get hate mail, I send them a book, a button and a mug.  Then I ask that they spell my name correctly and link to my site (laughs).  You will not convince them to think your way, but how much time and energy do you want to spend engaging that?  I'm busy building a GEMpire.

This thing, this internet, is a big fat sandbox.  There will be people who like you and people who don't like you.  This guy wrote in to CNN and said, "I don't know who you are, and I wish that you'd do something about your mangy hair."  I wrote a blog post with his comment.  I went through the whole thing and said that I know what it's like to be married to an older man and for him to have young kids.  I know what it's like to cry with that person as they sit with you and you're about to go through a life changing surgery.  So let it go.  You aren't going to please everyone.

You went through this incredible ordeal.  When did you know when it was time for you to help others through this sort of thing?  Sometimes I see people writing through crises, and it looks more like a train wreck than something that will help someone.  Sometimes I feel like I need to wait until I'm through the other side of it.Rene: I don't know the answer to that.  It's sort of an internal thing.  If you have any doubt before you come out with something big, then you should listen to that.  With my surgery, whenever I go places, I speak about breast cancer because people don't understand that this is one of the most curable cancers.  If it is found early.  If you find it at stage 0 or stage 1.  You don't get a mammogram generally until age 40.  I'm impressed by how many of you here knew that.  But you'd be shocked by the number of people who don't know this or who don't know basic things.

My surgery is not for everyone, and it's sort of a controversial thing.  I'll never forget a co-worker who said I don't know why you wouldn't just trust God to keep you healthy.  I need to be around for those kids of mine, and I'm going to do what I have to do.  It took me awhile to get to that place with CBS to talk about being fired.  It's hard to talk about being fired from a job that public.  Now I own it.  And?  So?

Emily from Colorado Mom:  I blog about my son and his autism.  How do I know where to tstop telling my story and keep it from bleeding into his story?Rene: I'm running into that with my teenagers.  I used to be able to tell everyhting.  My son told his whole third grade class that "my mom got fired and had a boob job."  I was like thank you, Son, thank you a lot.

In this case, everything online doesn't go away. If you think you're veering into a territory that could hurt him someday down the line, stop.  Sleep on it.  If you still think it's ok, then ask someone.  Send it to a friend.  Ask, "Is this too personal.  Should I write it anonymously?"  There are ways to get a message out without putting all your stuff out there.

Nikki from The Guilty Parent:  The Good Enough Mother goes hand in hand with what I do.  I am big on not apologizing.  Even though I'm not apologizing for things and decisions on the blog and I'm strong about not having to, how do you stop apologizing off the page?Rene: I just lock myself in a room and let them find me.  If it's something that needs to be apologized for, then I'm going to be honest that motherhood is this great awesome thing, but sometimes there are things that suck.  If you're in a situation where you know you need to come clean and apologize, then do so.  If you are doing it because it's a habit, then I don't know.  It's not really me to apologize just because.  I'm so sorry, that was terrible!

Jenn from SuperJennBlog:  I write for empowerment, and I write the good and the bad.  In your real life, you know things in your head, but how do you put this message in your heart?  How do you believe it there when you go to bed at night?Rene:  This is a marathon, not a sprint.  Your job as a mother is not judged on one day.  It's judged on 18 years and beyond.  Some days will not be great.  Some days you'll be batting 1.000.  It all evens out.  Some days you're batting .333, some days you'll be at 1.000.

How many times do you have a kid saying, "Can you just get off that laptop and watch tv with me?"  I have to say sometimes that I can't because I'm on deadline.  Your children are not hurt when you're doing this occasionally.  It's bad if you do it all the time.  Your children also are hurt if you're constantly at their beck and call.  They have to know that they are not the sun and that the universe does not revolve around them.  When my kids were born, I was still Rene Syler, I just had a baby.  I still have goals and dreams.

This might be something you have to work on.  You have to say that I wasn't perfect today.  Kids need to understand that they're going to have disappointments, so it's my job to be the first one.

Another audience member:  I really belive that guilt, fear and doubt are little monsters, and they sit around us all the time.  We can choose to feed them with self-deprecating thoughts and feelings, or we can choose to flick them away and say, "See you."  I often have to remind myself not to feed them because if you feed them too much, they stand in your way of getting things done.

Jessie from Parenting is a Big Deal:  We are all solid mothers here, but there are so many children out there who aren't getting what they need.  How do you deal with knowing this is out there?Rene:  This is not Selfish Mother.  It doesn't really meant that you feed your kids Skittles and Sprite.  It means that it's ok to say I need a break.  It's ok to have your own needs.  It isn't that it's ok to ignore your child.  That's not what this is about.  So far, I haven't had to deal with any of those comment on my blog, but I've seen them written somewhere else, but it's people who don't get it.  It's people who just see the title and pop off.

Heather from Domestic Extraordinaire:  I have two daughters 14 and 17, and that's where I'm so proud of my blog, except for my 14 year old is telling everyone about my blog.  My 17 year old really doesn't care.  How do your teenagers deal with your blog and life?Rene:  I'm building a GEMpire, and my duaghter works for me now.  She uploads content.  I'm making this a family thing. My husband is spearheading the marketing team.  I need to get my son involved somehow, somewhere.  I ask, "Are you ok with me writing these things?"  And if they're ok with it and you're ok with it, then who are you not ok with it being out there?  You have to be ok with it being out there.

The internet is a big thing.  You have to know that once it's out, it's out.  If you are going to be worried about the person two doors or two streets over who is going to see it, then don't write it.  Unlike traditional television, where your assistant could handle the backlash, we don't have that.  Now they just tweet at you how you stink.  That's the world we're in right now, so if you feel like maybe I'd best not say it, then skip it.

Angela England from Untrained Housewife:  I write about the traditions that used to be passed down over generations.  I just had this huge book project, and what I had to come to terms with was being 100 percent intentional when I was working and then leave the office and leave the computer and be 100 percent present with my children when I was with my children.  It's the only way I've survived the past six months.  Having said that, it's been six months of insanity for me.  How do you get reenergized?Rene: I do this because what I write about, I believe.  I wake up each morning and can't wait to write.  Good Enough Mother didn't start as a way to make money.  I started blogging because I didn't want to get forgotten, but the nugget of what this is all about was always in me.  Before I popped out the first kid, I knew that I wasn't going to be a perfect mother; I wasn't going to be a perfect anything.

Sometimes you get involved in a project where you're not getting enough sleep or anything, and it's hard. You've got to get back to what it is that is your passion.  If you're working on what is your passion, you'll never be working.  It's pretty clear that this conference is Kelby's passion.  She's walked around with a smile on her face because she has a passion for this. She believes in this and in the mission and what she's doing.

I'm the same way but on a smaller scale.  That's how I get recharged.  That's what keeps me going.  I wake up each morning and think about, "How can I make someone's life better today?"  It goes back to my mission statement.

Why We Still Blog - Type A Conference Recap

I've been blogging for awhile, and there are times when I just don't want to open my computer - and I don't. Three blogging veterans shared some amazing stories at Type A Conference that share why they keep blogging.  It's great motivation for all of us, and the key remains to remember why we started to begin with.

I have also posted other Type A Conference recaps:
Keynote session with Chris Garrett
Don't Rank Me: Getting Past Scores and Numbers with Kelly Whalen and David Binkowski
Time Management with Amy Bair
Taking Over the World with Google+ with Lynette Young
Vlogging for Bloggers: From Keyboard to Camcorder with Christie Crowder
Blog Coding with Peter Pollock and Caitlin
Blog Design with Laurie Smithwick, Brittany VanderLinder, and Melissa Culbertson

Why We Still Blog
Cecily Kellogg @UppercaseWomen
Tanis Miller @redneckmommy
Katherine Stone @postpartumprogr

The three bloggers began the session by reading some incredibly moving posts.

Katherine opened the floodgates of crying from the audience with Overwhelmed by Motherhood: The Anatomy of an Anxiety Attack.

Cecily followed that up with a blisteringly true Holding True: Maintaining My Non-Diet Status in the Post-Holiday Onslaught of Shame.

Tanis finished up with an incredibly moving My Son Has a Super Power.

From there, the conversation began.

Katherine: Did you cry?  Laugh?  React?  That's why we blog.  When we met before this sesson, we all agreed that we blog for three reasons: Community, writing, and therapy.

I started blogging becuase I had post partum depression, and I felt alone.  It's a very isolating and scary thing. It's so alone when there's no one around who feels like you do.  I didn't want anyone else to feel alone like I did.  It's not like I had a master plan.  I had a sense of purpose, and my purpose was that I was going to help somebody, and that's why I started and why I still do it.  It helps that for me I have a purpose that's much greater than me, so whenever I forget why I'm doing it, that reminds me why I'm here.

Over the   years, other things get added to it like meeting you and finding my tribe that I love and adore.  I love you guys and you make me feel like I'm part of a group of wonderful people, and that's why I do it.

I started blogging because my son was almost five, and he just died.  I live rural; I don't have any visible neighbors. My other children were in school, and I was losing my mind. No one else I knew had a son who just dropped dead when they were five, so I turned to the internet figuring surely that someone on the massive world wide web would feel like I did.  Eventually I stumbled on my first mom blog that had a blog roll on the sidebar that linked to other blogs. I fell into one blog after another and there are women out there who are writing what I'm feeling, and there was a light I could relate to.

After a few months of reading, I figured I could write so why not.  I started writing about how I felt losing a son and how I couldn't laugh and how I felt nothing because I felt like an ice cube.  I felt like I wanted to write to honor my lost son and my current children.  I wanted to remember how to feel.  Grief is the monkey on your back that when you think it's gone, it grabs your hair and yanks and says "Hello, I'm here."

Women have such power and there is such wisdom in our words, even though it's such a small blog and you think no one is reading.  Someone saved me, and if I can be that one ray of sunshine in a dark moment, that's why I blog.

Cecily: I started blogging because I couldn't have a baby.  I started hanging out on the Fertility Friend message boards.  People talked about the baby dance, which meant sex.  People talked about sprinkling you with baby dust.  I don't know if you've met me, but I don't want to be sprinkled with baby dust.  I couldn't connect with these women, but one day in those forums, someone linked to three blogs - Heather Armstrong, Julie of A Little Pregnant, and the defunct Getup Girl who was probably one of the best bloggers I've ever seen.  They were funny and irreverent and crazy, and they were talking about it like how it really is.

You go get your scans with a dildo cam, so I wrote about that and my doctor visits, and I wrote about losing my sons when they were six months along, and I wrote about the birth of my daughter.  When you're writing, it's first person narrative, and that's what really makes it sing for me.  One of the things about being a long term blogger is staying relevant.  If you're a woman and use your uterus and blog, then you're a mommy blogger, no matter what you blog about.  I had to rebrand, and my daughter is six and not so willing to be written about.  You have to keep being someone who matters in the blogging community, and I don't want to lose this amazing community I have.

Tanis: My kids were 8 and 9 when I started, so I always had to struggle with my boundaries and what I put on there.  They sort of passively accepted that their mother was going to make fun of them on the internet, which is the family dynamic at home, too.  The therapy bills will be awesome.  My daughter is turning 16 and my son is turning 15, and I think I'm going to be losing my mommy blogger badge soon.  Once they're out of high svhool, their stories really aren't mine anymore.

I'm really focusing on sharting stories that are relevant to me.  Sometimes it's fighting with my inlaws - life happens to all of us.  It's the small moments in life that are the most relevant to us.  It's the small things that make life interesting and are what we can relate to.  If you're waking up in the morning and putting things out there, you're taking a bite of life and can share that with people.  Someone will find it interesting, and if people don't then I'll write something else.  Once I lose the mommy blogger status, I'll just be Tanis blogging and I'll keep doing it.

Katherine: Post partum progress is a niche, and that niche never goes away because people have babies every year and 20-25% of women go through PPD or a similar illness. Now that my son is 10 and it's been  9 years since I had it, I'm further and further away from it.  When I first started the blog, it was me, myself, and I, and no one else was touching my blog. I felt very obsessed and controlling.  I didn't want to cede any control or let anyone else in, and finally I had to get over it because I had to start allowing other people's stories and points of view on the site.

I'm 42 now, so there are women who are 10 years and more younger than me having babies, and I wanted their peers to be able to talk to them.  So now I'm the editor of Post Partum Progress, so I write mostly once a week and I edit other women's stories, so it's more of a group thing now.  That's one way of differentiating.  I also have a new blog on Babble Voices called Something Fierce about living a fierce live and what that means to me.  It's about standing up to stigma and for women's health and how that applies to other parts of life and may apply to yours.

I'm a little nervous because - is anyone going to read it?  Will anyone accept me for that, or am I just the PPPD girl?  It's true for many of us where we get known for a particular thing and then it's not that I don't want to do that thing anymore, but I want people to know that Katherine Stone is more that just that little thing. So it's hard to venture outside that little realm that you've been living in for years, but I'm fierce,, so I'm going to give it a shot.

Cecily: I've been blogging since before Facebook, before Twitter, before G+ and everything else. There was just comments.  People did follow and come over to your blog from other comments on other blogs.  I used to be very funny on my personal blog until I lost my sons, but I love the freedom that Twitter has allowed me to be funny because on my blog everything is so serious.  One thing that might be different from others is that we are all personal blogs.  Tanis and I are self-centered narcissists, totally.

How do you evolve in blogging and use other platforms and use the larger social community.

Katherine: I started to find some success on my blog.  I blogged on my blog and in the comment sections of other blogs.  Then I discovered Facebook. And then Twitter started, and I did it for like two days and said WTF, I don't understand this, so I quit.  Then I went back a year later because everyone said I had to be on Twitter.  I chat about everyhing, and my mother is now on Twitter, which is SO awesome(sarcasm).  All of a sudden I have all these other things and places and people are starting to ask me, "Can you write here and write here?"

My blog and my tweet stream turned into my resume or my busines card.  My Facebook page was my cover sheet.  It was the gateway drug to getting other jobs.  I don't make much money on my blog and all ad revenue is donated, but now - because of my blog - I'm getting paying jobs and not just mooching off my husband, and that's what happened with my blog.  It's been a stepping stone to building a profeesional life, but I work really hard at it.  I have to force myself to shut off my computer and spend time with my kids.  Internet is my crack.

Tanis - So this is about branching out.  For the first four years or so, it was just Post Partum Progress all the time, and I also started when there was nothing else. The only way to get people to know  you was to comment on other blogs or send them an email saying, "Hey I'd love for you to check this out".

Twitter becme the place for me to be me.  I made a conscious decision that this blog is a place for other people, not telling people about my vacation or what I had for dinner because they're struggling with the worst part of their lives ever.  When Twitter came along, I  thoought I might have a place to be myself.  That's where I put my little paws in the water to show who I am and to see if people accept that.

For many years, I never went to a conference because many of us in the blogging world have - like me - social anxiety.  Stab me a milion times in my forehead because it would feel better.  That's how I felt.  Finally, I realized that I'm never going to get anywhere hiding behind my laptop.  I started going to conferences, and that's when everything changed.  It doesn't mean that I don't have social anxiety, but meeting people in person has made a massive difference in getting these extra projects and having people say, "Would you like to do this or that?"  That didn't happen until I started going to conferences and started forming relationships.

Nobody is sponsoring the depressed girl, we're not inviting her to the Hasbro party.  I'm not sending her to Disney.  That's the atttitude that people have, so it wasn't until I was like, "I'm a real person and competent" that anything changed for me.  That was a big thing to be able to get out there, and thankfully I'm proud of my work and I started to win awards.  Those things help, too.  A little, not as much as you might think, but it helps gain some recognition which means more people will learn about PPD.

The one piece of advice I would give is to get out there and be who you are, don't worry about what other people have done or what success other blogs may or may not have had.

Katherine:  I still don't get invited anywhere either.  We're party people, we swear.  A lot of you have a business, you're selling something or you're a hard core reviewer.  How do I be myself and write about what you want to write about and still get noticed?  There are a lot of brands out there who like me for being me.  Don't worry about the brands who don't want to work with you because there are brands - and big brands - who are willing to take a chance.  A lot of companies are scared of social media, but a lot of them are taking a chance.  Keep writing and being you.

Cecily:  One conference I went to, people would say that I would beat people up.  I don't know where that would come from,,but that was the rumor.  I've never been in a fight except in 7th grade when I totally lost that one.

It's not all about page views.  It's interesting to talk about page views versus influence.  We have influence.  You talk about trying to be you.  My review of sleep number, I talked about how awesome it is for fat girls and how sex was on it.  One of the things I've done is that I've taken ads off my blog.  Because I have branched out to write elsewhere, I have the freedom of having my blog be ad free.  My page views are much lower than when I lost my sons or when my daughter was born.  Page views are much less important than that community.

What does influence mean to you?

Katherine: I just want to say, in my old life I was actually a brand marketer for Coca-Cola.  In defense of brands, it's easy to forget that they have a business to run, and while there are brands I adore in my own life, they may not pick me to do their stuff because their goals don't include Post Partum Progress.  The other thing that is important to remember is that sometimes it does hurt because you think that I use it and love it and they've made the decision that you're not the person they need.  You have to make that ok and then connect with the ones who do want to work with you for your influence.

In terms of influence, there's Klout now and all these things that are supposed to tell us who is influential and who isn't, and I can't stand it.  People told me was the way to be influential was to follow only people who have a lot of followers.  Screw that.  I'm not that kind of person.  I'll never be that person.  I'm never going to buy Twitter followers ever.  I'm never going to buy Facebook followers.  Ever.  If that makes me have a lower score, I want to be true to who I am and to me as a blogger.

Write on a piece of paper why you blog.  When you think some days and get stuck on "why do I do this" because we think we're only successful if I have this or that, this is the piece of paper you turn to.  I have influence because I focus on why I started and why I blog.  My people in my community trust me - I hope - and are interested in what I have to say and are willing to support me in other things I have to say.  They will donate money to my nonprofit or will retweet a post from Cecily or Tanis beacuse I asked them to.  That is influence -getting people to act.  That's what I focus on and try not to get sucked into these other fake measures of influence.

Tanis:  I try not to worry about influence too much because I was a geek in high school and I can't even influence my teenage son to take a shower.  I can't convince the internet to stop using the word "retarded" or get Disney to send me anywhere.  Once I focused on the numbers, I wanted to crawl into a hole and die and stop blogging.  I focus only on my friends and that I'm doing what I believe in and that others appreciate.  If they don't, then there are others who will.  There are a lot of people who like numbers, and that's fine.  I'm not a numbers person.

Cecily: I was laughing about Katherine talking about Twitter buying Twitter followers.  That's a rumor about me, and no, I have never bought Twitter followers.

I cannot tell you the number of times I've wanted to quit blogging, and mostly it's because people have said horrible things about me, my family, and things I've written.  People said something on Mom Crunch about not calling those people trolls and instead calling them invested critics.  It's hard to remember - I joke that there are two ways to criticize, "I disagree with you and here's why" and "You're an idiot and here's why" - I've had my parents trashed; I've had how I saved my life when I was pregnant with my sons trashed.

One of the great things that blogging has given me is that I can go to my community and say, "I want to quit and can't take it anymore."  Heather Armstrong saved me when I wrote her an email out of the blue of "how do you cope, how do you deal with this?" And she reminded me how many people I help each day.

But it's hard sometimes.  It's also the declining page views.  It's the less time because I'm mot invested in writing elsewhere.  It's the having a life and writing online.  How do we get past the things that make us want to quit?

Tanis: The best rumor for me is that I don't have an invisible kid who died.  I made it up.  But I really did have a child who died one day.  I don't have trolls and get hammered the way you do, but I'm tired.  It's exhausting trying to create the personal memoirs.  Not everyone appreciates that I'm writing about my kids or my husband or whatever.  I get beat up in real life about why do you do it, what's a blogger.  It drives me crazy and I want to give in.  Then I get an email from someone who says my son passed away and I don't know what to do or I have a disabled child and I just read a post you did.  You just put one foot in front of another.  Once it's no longer fun or fulfilling, you stop.  It's just like life.

Katherine: Sometimes about wanting to quit, it's just being overwhelmed.  These young people who keep creating new things make it tougher and tougher.  Now you have to do StumbleUpon and Pinterest and Instagram.  For many of us - this IS the Type A Parent conference - many of us have other responsibilities, and the times I think of quitting are when I'm overwhelmed and I feel like I'm doing everything mediocre, that I'm not doing one thing well that I'm just half you know what-ting.  I'm not really meeting any sort of level of quality in what I do that I would want for myself.

Sometimes that gets to you and you feel like I stink on so many levels and that's when I think I should quit because who am I helping?  I get so many emails I can't respond to them all anymore, and whose email did I miss and not help and they think I'm a horrible person?  I love that more people are reading and that they are reaching out - which is wonderful - but you feel like you're drinking through a firehouse.

The reason I don't quit though is because of what it says on that piece of paper in the first place.  If I'm not perfect this week or next week or the week after, that's ok.  No one has called to complain that I'm not perfect on that website.  Talk to your friends.  Get on Google Hangout.  Skype.  Tell them, "I'm thinking of leaving, is that a good idea?"  You might have them talk you down and ask how they can help you.  The biggest benefit ever is that blogging has changed my life.  I have beautiful people in my life that I just can't expain in words how important blogging has been to give me these amazing people.

Tanis:  I can't imagine quitting and losing all the friends we have.  It would be so isolating in northern Canada.

Cecily: I actually do get emails saying "You suck, and I'm not going to read you anymore."

It's interesting that there are all the new platforms.  I eat that up.  I sign up for all of them, and it's great that Babble has given me a place to geek out about it because my readers don't want to hear about Google+.

Being a long term blogger, my audience has eveolved.  I've lost a lot of people who read about my infertility.  I've lost a lot of the people who read when my duagher was born.  I've been sober 16 years.  I still get the emails of "my son is 16 and I think he has a drinking problem, what do I do?"  When I was 6 months pregnant, I developed serious pre-eclampsia and had to terminate my pregnancy to save my own life.  I was too sick for a c-section, so I had to do a partial birth abortion to save my life.  When I blogged that, I got a lot of ripping apart.  A woman who did this (criticizing) came to me months later.  She ended up being in the same situation and her community wouldn't support her.  My community did.  And that's why I'm in it.  For every single hate post, every single troll or invested critic, there are more who say thank you for saying it out loud because I can't.

What are your favorite moments from blogging?

Katherine - Emails, "You saved my life."  I'm done.

Tanis: The emails are fantastic, and I wouldn't trade them at all.  I love being able to walk into a room and realize that everyone else was struggling, as well.  It might not be with a disabled kid or a dead kid, but we're all isolated   I didn't understand that before I started blogging.  I didn't get how we could connect via our blogs or comments or emails.  We all spark off one another every day and that makes me feel less alone, and that saved my life after my son passed away.

What about work/family balance?  How do you do this - do the kids sit with you, do you do it at night?  How do you do it?

Tanis: All three kids are in school.  They get on the bus at 7:50 and hme at 4:30.  I don't turn off the laptop until they get home. It stays off until after dinnertime.  We do homework at the same table, and I do my blogging while they're at school.  I'm lucky with that. When they're on break, I don't know how to manage that and struggle with that.  When there are three kids at home whining at you and with the video games... business hours are what I do.

Katherine: Coming to these conferences and talking about that reminds me that I need to try harder.  I do the same things. My kids are gone for the day during the school year.  When I'm not having anxiety attacks, I work 9-3.  I hardly have time to eat lunch or go to the bathroom.  Literally, that's how much work there is in terms of emails and writing posts and doing interviews online; it doesn't ever stop.

I will say that I have a tradeoff that I have a mental illness where I need sleep.  If I don't get sleep, I will be in the hospital.  I don't get up early or stay up until 2am.  I have friends who do and can, but I cannot.  I can't follow through on as many opportunities as other people can.  I like living freely - not in restraints - so I have to protect my health.  There are some bright lines in terms of my health.  For my kids, I won't say that I'll never look at my phone with them because I totally do and my six year old calls me out on it, and I apologize.  Thankfully, my kids are comfortable enough with me that they'll call me out.  I have to hear that because they're telling me that, and that's when I stop.

Tanis: I try not to tweet on weekends.  I shut it off because I have to have some downtime.  If I don't step away from the computer, there isn't that much to write about.  I need the material.

Cecily - I work part time for who happens to be a Type A sponsor... I follow a pretty strict schedule.  I do my About One first thing in the morning because I can't write well in teh morning because I'm not a morning person.  I write between 3 and 5 pieces of content a day, so I have to get off Twitter to do that.  I'm not as active on Twitter between 1 and 6pm.

I have an office at home and work in my office because it makes my family - my mother who lives with us and my husband - respect it.  I work until dinnertime.  When my daughter comes home from school, I'm still working and she knows that.  A lot of times, she'll bring a game into the office where I'm working and play there so that she's physically in the room with me.  When she talks to me, I look away from the screen, but I also tell her that mommy needs to work and she needs to respect that.  I spent time with her dinner until bed.  Then I'm back online again.

I find it gratifying to be online in the evenings once the kids are in bed and you all have had some wine.  I also a little from FOMO.  I don't like to get offline because of that.

Katherine:  The other thing is when my husband is home, I still don't go back to work after the kids are in bed.  For me, I'm lucky in that he travels a lot.  When he's traveling and after the kids are in bed, I'm back on.  If you don't see me on Twitter, that means my husband is home!

Tanis: My husband hates when I'm online and we're both home.  He really hates it, so I stop.

Amy Lupold Bair - How do you deal with the people around you in real life who suck compared to everyone in this room?

Tanis: My hsuband says there are two distinct Tanises.  The one who lives online, and the one at home.  Not everyone loves what you're doing.  People in your real life may read something you wrote and not love it.  My mom saw a post I wrote and didn't like it and showed it to my dad, and he beat me up.  I didn't talk to him for 2 1/2 years.

Then there's someone who I thought was my best friend who saw a post about how I started to travel to the States and called CPS on me beacuse good moms don't leave their kids.  We lost the baby we were fostering to adopt because of that.

If you let it affect what you're writing, they're winning.  If I write it, I own it.  If I'm not willing to do that, I'm not willing to press publish.

Katherine: I'm so glad you asked this.  When I come to a conference, I feel alive. These women are so real and alive and smart and funny and down to earth.  Then I go home to the suburbs of Atlanta.  And I get the dog face.  What do you do?  Blogging?  Errrr? What?  One neighbor said, "What does that take you, like 30 minutes day."  Yeah... then I eat bon bons and I put my feet up and people fan me.

I feel very isolated at home because I'm not part of the world that I'm not doing what they're doing.  They are playing tennis all day, while I'm working. They don't understand why I'm not doing the same things they are.  I sometimes think that they think I don't want to be in their world, so I must be aloof and snooty.  It's a major gulf.

The very first thing I ever wrote was a PPD post for Newsweek that they published.  The week before it published, I started having buyer's remorse.  I talked about wanting to kill my son in the article, so my husband and I joked that we should buy copies and put them in mailboxes of all the neighbors with a Post-It saying, "Don't hire this woman as your babysitter."

Cecily:  Here I'm Cecily. I am not Wife.  I am not Daughter. I am not Mom.  I joined the social media club of Philadelphia.  This is a community that respects that I'm a professional.  We have a huge social media group that is 150 people strong. We have events we do together that makes a difference.  My best friend's husband said to me once, "You said blogging, and I zoned out."  I was so hurt.  My best friend said the business of blogging so so boring, but if I said this about her job, she would be so hurt.

This is my job, my passion, and my joy.  I will keep people in my life who get this.  I am blessed to have another person who lives two blocks from me who lives in this world.

Blog Design: You Can Make It Beautiful

I love my little bloggy home.  It's been a great place to put up my feet and stand on my soapbox for years.  Is it perfect?  Well, of course not, and I don't pretend that it is.  For a long time, it's been good enough, but I want to do so much more with it.  I want to get all my social media buttons up there.  I'm tired of the background I have right now and want the whole design to be cleaner.  I know this, and at Type A Conference, I was able to take some steps towards doing this.  I already posted my recap from the blog coding session I attended that turned most of it from Greek to say Spanish for me.  The next logical step was  blog design (a link to a .pdf of their slides).  Love the tips.

I have also posted other Type A Conference recaps:
Keynote session with Chris Garrett
Don't Rank Me: Getting Past Scores and Numbers with Kelly Whalen and David Binkowski
Time Management with Amy Bair
Taking Over the World with Google+ with Lynette Young
Vlogging for Bloggers: From Keyboard to Camcorder with Christie Crowder
Blog Coding with Peter Pollock and Caitlin

Blog Design: You Can Make It Beautiful
Laurie Smithwick @upsideup
Mel Culbertson @melaculbertson
Brittany VanderLinden @brittanyvandy

Laurie:  I'm going to teach you to win at blog design.  I run a graphic design firm in Charlotte.  I can teach you how to make your blog beautiful.  I don't blog anymore, but I did when I had free time.  I was a graphic designer since 1993.  These were in the days when computer courses were not required.  I've been working with Photoshop since version 2.0.  I've been in love with graphic design since I found out that it was a thing when I was 12.  I worked in the music industry doing CD package design.  Since right now the most fun thing in the world is online, that's where I spend my time.

Brittany: I will tell you what looks really good on a site, what to pay for what not to pay for, and what works well on a site.  We'll get into a lot of things that are easy to put in the back of your head and use on your site when you have the time or inclination and give you tips and tricks and things to avoid on your site.

Mel: I got into blogging in 2009.  I blog at and another  I also have a blog critique site, too.

Why Blog design Matters
You've got a blog, and your blog is filled with content.  Why does it matter whether or not your design looks good?  Back in 2004 and 2005, the key was that we were getting online and that was so cool and empowering, the fact that we coul publish our words online was amazing.  Slowly people started making their sites look better and better, and that was a mystery how they did it.  It still is somewhat of a mystery how you have everything work together to make a good design.

What you need to do to make your blog an amazing space is to make it look good.  People like things that look good.  It's why iPhones sell well.  It's why Macs sell well.  If you are writing great content and your great has a great design, then you have a great blog.

You're working away at night on your blog.  You're picking colors and choosing fonts and widgets and sidebars.  In your mind, it's going great and you're a WordPress mastermind, and in your mind, your blog is gorgeous and it zings and it has pretty fonts and pictures.  Then you hit save and view your blog, and you're shocked that it's not what you thought.  The fonts are awful, and it's crowded.  Everything is wrong with the site.

What is it that we designers know that enable us to know how to make sites that zing and pop?  It's a really easy answer.  There are rules to web design and to graphic design, lots of rules.  There are a fairly finite number of rules.  What differentiates you from us is that we know all those rules and we follow them religiously.  We don't break the rules.

The top 10 biggest design mistakes
We want to get this out of the way so we don't talk negatively.  We want you to know if you have any of these mistakes, so you can take care of them right away.

Mel: I've done 75 blog critiques, and I've seen many of the same mistakes and issues over and over again.

1) Sizing issues - a header that is so big with no navigation.  Everything above the scroll bar is above the fold.  Do you see just an image with no way to get around there, or do you see something that you can navigate?  Things can also be too small, not necessarily the header - it could be the font is too small and it's hard to read.
2) Lack of sharing buttons - Someone reads a post that they love and you can't find the buttons to share with all their Twitter followers.  If you want people to spread what you wrote, you need to have the buttons not just when you go into the post but up at the top of your posts so that they can get to the sharing easier.
3) Mismatched purposes - Maybe you're very humorous and your blog is very dark.  It can also be a mismatch that it doesn't fit with your goal. If you want to do freelance writing, it is a blog that has nothing that says "I can freelance with you or I want to do advertising"  Think about that as you look at your blog.  What are you trying to accomplish, and does your design and what you have in your naviagation say what you have in your blog?
4) Lack of images - Just about evey blog post you write should have an image in it.  It can be more than just no images in the design, but in your content, too.  It gives your eyes a break.  We like something to focus on beyond just text.
5) Clutter - If you have a lot of blog badges, look at your sidebar and see what's helping you meet your goals.  Do you say that you're a contributing writer, or do you just toss up the badge?  People don't know if you're advertising or just a big fan.    If you have too many blog badges in your sidebar, you're taking people away.  If there's something important to you, you can keep it but maybe take something else away.
6) Formatting - The first paragraph I ever wrote was how to improve your writing without improving your writing.  Online we skim, we look at bullets and want things in chunks.  You may just type it all out, but when you preview it, look for places to rest.  Where can I add images and make breaks for the readers.
7) Fonts - Is that a Comic Sans font?  There may be plenty of fonts you love, but they may not fit the style of your writing.
8) Poor Images - Food blogging needs good images.  If it's dark or not well composed, it may not speak to how good that food is.  If you have a tiny picture and you try to blow it up, it may look pixelated.  There are some that are really overused images, too.  You don't want to use either the same stock images (cartoon moms) or same images in lots of posts.
10) Old Stuff - "I'm going to TypeA 2011!"  Lots of times we forget what we have on our sidebar.  Schedule some time every month or so to look at your site to see if there is anything that is old or outdated or that you're not doing any more, take it off your site.

Under the hood
Brittany: I'm going to talk not only about how people see your blog but how search engines see your blog.  The very foundation is what goes beneath your images, and you want that as clean as possible.
Behind the scenes, Google and other search engines read your blog.  They can't see pictures, so they see only the text adcode.  A header should see the name of the header and a simple image location that it has an H1 tag associated with it so that Google knows that this is important.  Google knows that your name is important to your blog.  The same thing happens when you use titles and subheaders.  

You want to view your blog in source to check to ensure that what Google is seeing is important is what's important to you.   If you've been blogging for a long time, you need to be able to make the coding look right, especially for widgets.  Or you have badges that you want to show and one is 50 pixels and one is 75 and they don't look good together.  You will get a badge design in html and simply paste it onto your site.  Don't do that; check to make sure that all your badges are the same width and that they are all justified the same way.  

CSS is what modifies your blog's design colors and layout.  It's good to know how to look at your CSS on your site.  You will not break your site with CSS.  You can with PHP but not CSS.  I like this color pink, but I don't know how to change it or I don't know how to center my nav bar.  Look at what your blog thinks your header is called in your CSS and then change that.

PHP is where you break your blog.  Back up your blog before you change any of this.  If you have the energy and desire to do it, you can make major functionality changes to your blog yourself. It's amazing what you can do to make your site work the way you want to.

This a header (we see the view of it).  Behind the scenes, you want the search engines to see what you want them to see.  If you change the blog name, you need to ensure that the coding source behind that has the right tags behind it.

There is a plug in in Firefox called Firebug that allows you to see how your site is laid out.  You can change things on your blog for pretend without actually making it different.  You right click on area of the blog, and it gives you the CSS and the code behind that element.  It also shows you the layout button that will show you the size and margins and padding that it had built in so you can figure out how you may want to change it.  On any blog where you love the way it looks, you can look up in general terms how they did it and how you can do it on your site.  Google Chrome has something similar to Inspect Elements to do something very similar.  If you don't have the money for a high end designer, check out some blogs you like to see what others have done to get some pointers before you get to your own site.

For SEO purposes and for reader purposes, you want to see the important things first.  Right away, you want to ensure that any theme you have isn't interrupted by the layout you have so that Google still sees your content and categories first. will help you check this.  You can check any blog you want with this.

Planning is key
You want to think about what you're putting on your blog and what you're not.  What is your content and what is linking to other's content?  If you have a product you're selling or something that you want there - your subscriptions, etc., are they where you want them?  Make sure you plan out space for your ads, those mostly are prescribed where they can go.  Brand ambassadorships and conference badges and such, put them further down.  How many do you want, and where you do you want them?  Blog rolls should really be on a separate page.

Think about your links (RSS/Social Media icons, email subscriptions/newsletters, categories, highlighted posts, search, your shop or product, facebook interaction) versus links to others (paid ads, ambassador badges, blog badges, conference badges, blog rolls, charities).  If it doesn't load in a second, people will go to another site instead.  Make sure that you're not loading down your site with blog links that have to pull from elsewhere that slow things down.

Don't have too many categories.  It's really hard for parent bloggers because we write so many things, but you need to have some focus for your readers and for Google to know what you're writing about.  Try to not have too many categories - no more than 10 and preferably fewer.

If there are blogs you really like and read, you can put them on a resource page.  If you have an area of expertise, you can link up other resources on that page that lead your readers to other sites that have great content.

Consider where you put each element.  Most blogs have a header, content, sidebar, and footer.  Think about this when you color it out and doodle it in.  Everything is up top for Dear Chrissy; she has a great design with everything that is compact.  She doesn't have too many colors, and she has pictures telling people what to read next rather than the links to other posts with text.  She has a great place and visibilty to her Facebook and other social media buttons.  Your colors have to fit you.  It still needs to be a well designed site, and you have to like it yourself.  Know that not everyone will like your colors or your design or even your writing, and that's ok.

Make it easy to use
Mel:  How many times have you been to a blog and you couldn't find where to comment or where to share a post or where to go after you read that post?  It's because they made it hard to get around the site.  You want to have good functionality and navigation so they can see and then want to share your content.

Think about the things you use every day.  Navigation is the force field.  If it isn't good, it keeps your content where it is.  With Zappos you have two way free shipping so you can try multiple shoes.  Starbucks you can load money from Paypal onto the app and hold your phone up to the cashier to pay.  They've made it easy, and you can, too.  For this presentation, did you see that we put our twitter handles on the bottom of each slide?

You want to make it easy toget around your site.  You want to keep people within three clicks.  If there are no breadcrumbs or trail, there's no way to get back out.  You don't want to click home and go all the way there, just back a little.  Make sure it's easy to do that.  It means there is extra work on the back end, but it's worth it.  Think of the Starbucks app - they didn't just toss something out there; they did hard work, and it's great.

Think about going into Target.  Think about all the products as the posts on your blog.  You want people to be able to find your content.  Target has endcaps to showcase things.  You want to do the same for your popular posts - things that are trending right now or are seasonal.  People will read your most current post.  If they really like it, they'll want to see what else you've done.  There are widgets and pages you can create, but make sure they can easily find other popular content.

Related posts - you want to have things available.  It's like the little widgets at the bottom of posts.  In Target, it's having the toys near batteries.  Maybe you wrote a two part series, then ensure you link your first post into the second one to ensure others can find them.

The categories are like the areas in target, but you want to keep them 10 and under so they aren't overwhelming for others.  In Blogger, you have labels.  Category is the recipe, label is the chicken.  You can sometimes create subcategories.  What Google sees with categories is that the fewer categories you have, the more authority you have in those categories. If you have 90 categories and 2 posts in each, then you have little authority per Google.  If you have fewer tags and more posts in each of those tags, Google knows that you have more authority there.  Go with fewer labels - use them as categories.

Your eye can't focus on a 90 category drop down list, but it can on a 10 item list, so it helps readers, too.  You can delete categories, but look to see what categories those posts might fit in instead.  There are plug ins to help you recategorize tags instead of doing them manually.  You can also go into your WordPress editor and pull up a category and then bulk edit them, too.  Convert things to tags instead, and that's where you can put more details.  Subcategories are ok, too.  Think about how often you click on someone else's tag cloud - is it valuable to even have one?

If you have a structure on your blog with the date and the name of the post, that's fine.  However if you have tags as a part of the permalink and change the the tags, you will have to do a 301 redirect.  If ProBlogger links to your site and you have changed your site, then you want to ask them to update the link.  Look to see if there are any big sites that have linked to you, and that's where you want to ensure that they have updated their links to you.  There is some disagreement over whether just doing a 301 redirect works just as well.

The search box is like "I know I need to get that particular thing."  Instead of walking down the aisles, you ask someone in Target. You want to be sure you have a functional search box.  It should be above the fold and very easy to find.  Sometimes, someone may have come to your site and they had to go offline and want to find it again, so they'll want to search.  Make it easy for them.  A lot of people have it in their header.

Featured pages.  That relates to the popular posts.  Right after Type A last year, I did a blog business card series.  I ended with a blog business card showcase. It's still relevant this year, but it was unless someone happened to see it under blogging, they would never find this series.  Instead, I pulled those posts out and created a separate page and created a graphic on my home page saying "Bloggy business card series" that has then a nice landing place for someone who is interested in these.

Archives?  I can understand the value of them, but your sidebar is valueable real estate.  There aren't many people who will click through your posts that way.  People will love your cloth diaper post and want to find more about that, but they are less likely to go through to see what you wrote last February.  If you have a good search button, this is even less necessary or helpful.

Finding your posts.  There are some people who have taken some of the things that you're known for and pulled them out to create the categories with an image or some sort of call out instead of just doing a drop down menu.  It makes it easier to find the posts that you wrote.  Visually, it doesn't always have to be perfect.  Have a navigation bar for your big categories and then clicking on it goes to those posts.  If you have a frequently asked questions, ensure there's a link there.  If you're a food blogger, what are the top ingredients you use, what are your favorite tools?  Have those in another page.

Avoid large amouts of text on dark backgrounds.  As far as reading long blog posts, it hurts our eyes to read.  Use simple fonts for large blocks of text.  While you might have a pretty font for your header or your blog title, you don't want a scripty font or all caps for your blog post itself.  You want something simple for reading.

Format your subheadings, bullets, and paragraphs.  Think of it as design to help tell your story and make it more visually appealing.  If I said something like "My heart stopped." If that's at the end of a paragraph, it doesn't have the same impact as if it's a a stand alone sentence in its own paragraph.

Don't forget to use images in your posts.  It really makes a difference.

Where is the comment button on your site?  Most likely, people read the post and then want to comment.  I've seen sites where you read it and then have to scroll up to the top to comment.  That's fine if people are coming back and want to post or you get 50 comments on a post.  It's awesome if you see that people get that excited about your writing, but make sure there is also a comment link on the bottom.  Also have the button to post comments on the home page of your site and not within the post, so people can comment without having to read the post, then click on the title and scroll down before they can comment.  You want to make it easy to interact with you.

Think about blog moderation.  Don't do it, as it provides a look of mistrust between you and the reader.  Use Akismet or something similar instead.  It is so easy and so smart, and it learns your rules.  If you don't have it, install it now. If you are not a business, you don't have to pay.  There is a free account there; you just have to search around their site to find it.  Or use WordPress Ban where  you can ban certain IP addresses.  There is another one from CommentLuv called GrowMap Anti Spambot Plugin that is a "click here if you're not a spammer" where you can make that really fun.

Blogspot: If you have a blogger blog, you have various options of letting people comment.  If you don't have a name/URL option for commenting, it makes it really hard for WordPress people to comment because it takes you to creating a blogger blog instead of your gmail account.

Don't do word verification, especially if you do giveaways.  Turn it off.  It's incredibly limiting if you're commenting on a site, and it's so hard to read.  It's making the barrier between the reader and the blog greater.  You want to remove the barriers from getting people to do what you want on your site.  Word verification is painful.

You have to have sharing on your sites.  We're not just bloggers.  We're online all over and we want to be able to have those discussions wherever we are, not just on your blog.

Customize this when necessary.  You want to them to be customized to go into the settings to have it all connected to your actual posts.  You don't want to have it a "via" one.  Don't give Share This your credit.  Don't make people cut and copy your post title and then your URL to be able to share it.  Use Dig Dig or Share This or Sociable, etc.  They are very easy to use and customize.

Do you have "too much jam?"  There was a store that would do taste tests. They had 24 jams and then 6 jams.  With 24, 60% stopped and 3% purchased.  They did a test and put out only 6 jams to sample instead of 24.  With 6, 40% stopped but 30% purchased.  Give people a choice, but not too many.  Everyone will win.

Calls to action.  Think about one action - do you want them to follow you on Twitter?  Like your Facebook page?  Give them one simple thing to do but not too many.  You can create a document that has all this and then rotate out your call to action periodically.  For every post, take five to ten minutes to think about what you want to do and how the SEO engine and the like will interpret what you're trying to do.

Sharing buttons - don't have too many of them.  How many of the ones out there that you have never heard of?  Select the ones where your readers are - G+, Facebook, InShare, LinkedIn, Pinterest, wherever your readers are.

What's in a design
Laurie: It's all about layout, fonts, colors and themes.  Here are some cheekily written tips:

Look your readers in the eye.  You want to get their attention, so see where they're looking and then put your stuff there.

Establish a hieracrchy.  Make it easy for your readers to know what you want them to see first, make it bigger or brighter or bolder.  Make it a rule so that they always know what to do first and second
Whitespace is your friend.  You do not need to fill up every space.  If you do, your reader won't know where to look.  Give your content space to breathe.

Be consistently consistent.  Once you're sitting down and working on your website, you will sit down and make up your rules.  If you always make your headlines red, always make them red.  If you always do black and white photos, always do that because that will affeect the mood of your site. That will help your readers move their way aorund your site most easily.

Remember how your art history teacher told you that artists told you how to enter and exit a painting and how to move around the painting?  If you look at this painting, you start looking by the door with the bright light next to the pitch dark.  Your eye will keep moving because it wants to move around; we move around constantly.  You want to put your most important things where they eye rests.

As designers, we want to help our readers move their eyes around.  What's interesting about looking at websites, is that we look at the same things. Heat maps study impressions from your eyes where your eyes are looking.  Every single one of the heat maps is the upper left to start. Because we read from left to right and top to bottom.  You want your logo or blog title to be at the top of the page, skewing to the left side.  After that, you can see where things move down and to the right, then the move to the middle of the bit.  You notice that for a lot of the business websites, there isn't much happening on the right side, but for blogging this is different.  Get your content and title in the upper left.

Basic Lefty Layout
1        2
2        3
Here, the logo at the top is number one, then left sidebar and rest of the top is the same weight (2), then move to the 3 area.  On other sites, you can put pictures much bigger that are the ones you want people to look at first.  Size is a great way to say to someone that this is more important than something else.  Lots of blog themes have galleries built into them now, so you can have just a page of imagees you want to show off.

The Righty
2        3
Big header at the top, link and such on the sidebar, and the content in a big chunk on the left.  By what is more narrow versus wider, you can see what is more important.  You can use color as a style element to differentiate the hierarchy, too.

The Hug
2        3        4
You still have your big header at the time, and then you have 2 sidebars (2 and 4) with the content in the middle (3).  If you aren't very clear as to what's on the left versus what's on the right, it isn't clear what's where.  Some people have all their self promotion on one side and outside links/ads on the other side.  If you do this, make sure you don't make people dizzy looking at them.

There are now landing pages more often.  If someone comes to find you and they just find your blog, you want to be sure they also know you're teaching photography classes online.  A lot of people allow you to still get to your blog but then also have the other interests/businesses listed so that those are not lost anywhere.

A standard browser is 1024 wide.  Don't make things a lot bigger or a lot smaller.  990 should be your outer limit of what you should have for your blog content across all columns to ensure everyone can see your page without scrolling.  Take a look at how far people can see above the fold.  Make sure your stuff fits there and fits well.  If you don't, your things won't be seen.  Your content is your major thing on your blog.  Make sure it's bigger than your sidebar.  Especially with double sidebars where you have a smaller content window, be careful on your sizes.

If you look at your analytics, you can see  what the majority of your readers' moniitor resolutions are.  You can see the lowest common denominator - now it's 1024x768.  If you're using a new computer, you're using a higher resolution so change your resolution to that lowest common denominator and then make sure you see what they're seeing on your site so yo know what's falling below the fold.

Fonts and Your Design
Fonts are communicating things about you before  you've said a word.  They know if you write in all script or all clean fonts, and that's saying something about you.  Fonts are not a way to make things look more designed.  If you use too many, it's a great way to make sure people know you aren't a designer. You never want to use more than 3 fonts in anything.  Two is better.  If you can make it 1 with other colors and sizes and bolding, that's winning.  We're in a post modern time where we like things clean.  Do it if you can.

Don't use clashing fonts.  If you've chosen Georgia as your body font, don't use Times in your header. They're so similar, so there's no reason to change the font.  If you're going to do something different, use a sans serif font.

The world of fonts online is changing.  Next year, I'll be saying something different.  You need to specfiy one of those safe 16 or so fonts at least as your secondary fonts so that they can be a backup.  (Georgia, Times, Arial, all those basic ones that come with the Microsoft set).  Say you really love the font Avaneer but the majority of the world doens't have it, then make sure you specify Arial as the second font so that those who don't have it on their computer don't get something you don't want them to have.  This is something that you change in your CSS.  All the ones in that font list list should all be the same family of fonts.  You don't want them to be so different that someone who doesn't have your first font will make your blog not look how you want it to look.  You do want to specify something because Times or Courier are what is the browser standard, and you don't want people to see your page in that font.

FontSquirrel is a great source for web fonts.  There is a great new thing called Type Kit that just got bought by Adobe, which constantly acquires expensive fonts.  You then pay Type Kit a very small fee - there is a free version for small traffic, a low fee one for medium traffic like a million hits a month, and then there's another version.  You can get the medium one for $50 per year. They have an enormous and constantly growing list of really good fonts.

What this means is that means FontSquirrel is hosting the fonts on their servers, and you're just linking to them so everyone sees it.  You can specify the font, and everyone in the world sees that font exactly the way you want them to.  Your theme may have things preset for  your H1 and H2 - for example, your theme says that the character spacing should be X, which may make a font you want to use look wrong because the natural spacing for that font is different. If you, you need to adjust it so that your style sheet and blog know what you're using and it clears up those issues.  The biggest downside is that every so often their sites are down and then sites look awful.  Google web fonts are not always great but the fonts are usually free.  They may not be built as well as the vetted fonts coming into the Type Kit is bringing in.

There are a lot of mobile themes.  WordPress Touch is great and so instant, but it has all your fonts over ridden with their CSS.  If you want to do your fonts, then you may have to go into the CSS for that plug in and update it.  Now you're getting into responsive web design so that it shrinks and shrinks, depending on your screen size.

Fonts communicate in various ways.  Each font conveys a different image.  You want your font to convey who you are.  You can play around to see what works and doesn't work.  Look at that is a huge site filled with free fonts.  They organize their fonts by descriptive words like childike or graffiti or grungy to give you a little bit of education.  Spend an hour playing around there to see what they convey and help you choose your fonts.

Make sure you choose a font that is easy to read.  Sans serif is the easiest to read.  Times New Roman is tight and weirdly hard to read.  You lose some of the serifs on small screens and they look blurry.

Mel: The same rules apply as fonts.  Don't overdo it on color.  Even if you're doing a rainbow you can do it with 5 colors and not 19.  There are some great color palette sites, and Mel is going to write a post about this to share tonight.

Use colors to do things on your site.  They don't need to be just purely decorative.  Make rules.  If you use red, it's a search term, if I use blue it's headlines.

Take photos of things and pull out colors from there to create palettes, too.  You can pull out shades of a single color to make it look like you're using more colors than you are, providing you choose to use them not wildly.  If you are a big bold person, go with that big bold color.  You can embrace it, but check your taste level and be sure that your taste level matches.  Ask around if you aren't sure.  Ask someone whose taste you trust.

You can find those color palettes from your lunch or a building you pass on the way to work or even your kid at the park.  It's amazing how unifying the world is.  You can pull them out so easily.  There are actually sites that can pull out the hexcodes for colors in a photo so you can use them.

Buy the DesignHire It, Buy It, DIY It

Buying A Designed Template
Mel:   I admit that I don't know tons of code and most comes from print design.  I bought a framework (Genesis now, Thesis originally).  You can buy a framework that requires a little more tweaking on your side.  It's the bones on your site that you can change to move things around where you want them to be so that it reflects who you are.  There's also Headway and Canvas in addition to Genesis and Thesis.  With them, you can then add a skin that's a litlte more design-y.  Many of the frameworks are very bare bones.  You can also buy just a design flat out and then change colors and logos, but you're not doing it from scratch.  It's less expensive than buying a custom design, and there's lots of functionality built in.  Many look great.
You can go to and then to the marketplace to buy Genesis designs.  Thesis hasn't been updated in awhile, and if you're someone who really likes to tinker and play with code, Thesis may be a good choice because you have to figure a lot of things out where Genesis has a lot of things already done for you.  Genesis is so much more elegant and beautiful.  If you do want to tinker, it's harder to do it in Genesis because the tools aren't built in to do that.  Genesis is working on building up their forums and support groups.  If you don't want to go under the hood and not want to think about it much, then Genesis might be a better choice, but it's a personal choice.

Hire a Designer
Laurie: Hiring a designer or a programmer is expensive.  If you like to get in under the hood of your blog and it's fun for you, do not hire someone.  If you hire someone, they may have opinions.  They will never tell you that your blog looks great and we don't need to change anything.

A lot of people take a journey - they start off with their blogger them and then their wordpress them and then a year or two later, they say they're not a designer, I just want to write.  That's when I get a phone call.  "I've reached the limit of what I want do and just want to write."  That's a great time to hire a designer because you can tell them exactly what you want.

Yes, they're going to design it, but before that, you can make special requests.   You get to say what matters to me.  Your site is going to be unique.  In theory - and it depends on the designer you hire - the design will look like your website and not a theme.  A lot of people have the sites where they look just like the themes that are out there, but the colors are different.  With a designer, at 2am you have support when your site isn't working.  You can say you need help and because you've paid them, they're still going to be on your team to keep the site looking good.

For example, I have a client loves layers and is a fashion designer.  She makes inspiration boards and layers her clothes.  This comes across very clearly, so the site got designed cleanly but with the spirit of layers.

If you've reached the point where you just want to get back to writing or you've reached the end of your ability and want to go further, that's when you call another designer.

DIY Your Design
Brittany:  You can do a combination of these by hiring a designer to do your header or buttons and then put them on your site.  I know exactly what I want, and I couldn't get that from a designer.  I was so frustrated and I would have trouble working with a friend because I needed to get what I want.

You can do DIY blog design piece by piece and learn it bit by bit.  You can buy just a header or just a layout and then ask people to teach you to do different things.  What if I want to get into my font or change my color?  Sometimes your agreement with your designer runs out and you want to change something.  Make sure you at least learn a bit about your site to be able to make changes when you want.

You can buy things from anywhere, but make sure they're optimized for SEO and they work with the way you want to put them.  Start with something little, and see if you can do it.  Google your way to glory - it's amazing what you can find.

Figure out your budget and a realistic one.  If you only have a certain amount, spend it on the part you can't learn to do and keep your design simple so it isn't as difficult to fit into your budget.  You may have to save up; you won't get it for $200 anywhere if it's complex.  Take pride in your blog.  The better it looks the happier people will be when they go on there.

Once you learn some real html and CSS basics, you can really start to understand what's going on in your site.  There are all sorts of sites that will give you some learning and tools for this.  If you know just a little bit of this, you can conquer the world.

If you are unhappy with a theme, you can move off that theme.  If you don't like the programmer, there is no reason you can't start fresh.  It's the nature of the internet where you don't have to print a whole new book to make something new or change it.

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